KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When Dayton Moore brought in right-hander James Shields in last December’s blockbuster trade with Tampa Bay, Moore wanted to not only revamp the Royals’ troubled rotation, but also turn around a losing culture that permeated the Royals’ clubhouse.
Mission accomplished on both ends.
Shields posted an American League-best 228 2/3 innings pitched along with a 13-9 record and a 3.15 ERA while fostering a new competitive attitude that led to the team’s first winning season since 2003.
And on Thursday, Shields was honored for his all-around contributions last season, taking home the Joe Burke Special Achievement Award, which is voted on by the Kansas City chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA).
More good news for Shields: The Royals on Thursday exercised the club option on his contract for 2014, worth $13.5 million. Of course, that came as no surprise.
“Well, I was hoping they would,” Shields said, laughing, during a conference call with reporters. “I thought I had a pretty good season.”
Indeed he did. Shields was exactly the type of bulldog starter Moore envisioned at the top of the rotation. Shields tied for the league lead in games started with 34 and led the league in quality starts with 27.
Shields, nicknamed “Big Game James,” also came through when the Royals needed him most: During the final month, Shields went 4-1 with a 3.18 ERA as the Royals stayed in the playoff race until the season’s final week.
Even more, Shields’ fiery presence on the mound and his calm but upbeat demeanor in the clubhouse established him as a team leader.
“It wasn’t too difficult,” Shields said of his leadership role. “It’s not really anything I tried too hard to do. I just tried to be myself and be a good teammate. I feel it comes natural to me.
“This is a great group of guys and they welcomed me.”
After helping lead the Royals to 86 wins, Shields’ expectations for next season are even higher.
“it’s amazing what the organization has done in the last four or five years to turn this around,” he said. “Now it’s our job to keep going.”
That challenge will be not only on the players coming back but also on the front office, which will have to make key decisions on free-agent pitchers Ervin Santana and Bruce Chen.
“You know, as a baseball player I understand the business side of it,” Shields said. “But sure, we would love to have Magic (Santana) back and Bruce. Bruce has a lot of leadership qualities, too. And Magic had a phenomenal year.”
One thing Shields does know is that his elite defense will be supporting him again next season, a defense that includes recent Gold Glove winners Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon and Sal Perez.
“To be a part of a team with three Gold Glovers is amazing,” Shields said. “Being a pitcher, I don’t really care much about the offense, but I can’t say enough about our defense. That’s where it starts for us. All of our guys competed so hard and performed so well.”
Though Shields is entering the final year of his contract with the Royals, he isn’t necessarily anticipating any extension talks this off-season.
“I’m not expecting it,” he said. “I’m just going to enjoy the off-season. If it happens, great. …
“I know I love playing in Kansas City.”
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email at email@example.com.